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Interview Questions for Managing Relationships at Work

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It’s not enough to know your field, deliver successful results and hit sales targets. Although employers want to hire people with demonstrable achievements, technical know-how and business savvy, they also want workers who excel at interpersonal relations. Employees who aren’t able to build and maintain positive, productive relationships with co-workers detract from the overall workplace because of the potential for conflict. Interview questions might ask candidates to describe their strategies for managing relationships at work to gauge how they might mesh with the team.

Handling Criticism Effectively

Even effective employees sometimes receive feedback or criticism about their performance. Managers might find that reports aren’t organized enough or that sales numbers are disappointing. Candidates could be asked to explain how they might react if an employee’s performance wasn’t up to par. For potential employees who will also be managing other workers, interview questions might ask how to handle an employee who reacts negatively to constructive criticism. Strong responses will focus on depersonalizing the criticism, isolating the problem and developing productive ways to address the quality issue at stake. Residual resentment should be addressed explicitly but professionally so that working relationships remain intact.

Establishing Flexibility

Workplace leaders understand that people have different life experiences, personalities, goals and communication styles. Interview questions for managing relationships at work might ask candidates to describe how to maintain effectiveness in a diverse workplace environment that accommodates potentially conflicting viewpoints, according to The Lewis Group, an executive placement firm. For example, a potential employee might be asked how she would present and justify an unpopular decision to a supervised worker, a manager, stockholder, board member or member of the press. Respecting the integrity of the different relationship types while honoring the long-term needs of the firm is key.

Digging Up the Past

Employers like to see evidence to justify responses, so candidates might be asked to sift through their previous work histories to identify examples of positive or negative relationship experiences. For example, an interviewer might ask you to describe how you handled an untrustworthy co-worker or demanding boss in the past. Questions might also ask candidates to explain how positive relationships contributed to the successful outcome of a large project. Responses shouldn’t dwell on negative aspects or gossip about different workplace environments; instead, the focus should explain the conflict resolution strategies selected and lessons learned from the challenging situation.

Yes Sir, Yes Ma’am

Sometimes the most crucial relationship an employee needs to manage at work involves the client or customer. For jobs that require direct interaction with clients, interview questions might ask a candidate to describe her customer service philosophy or how she has handled client dissatisfaction in the past. Effective answers will emphasize placing personal viewpoints or egos aside in order to best meet the needs of the customer and maintain a positive, fruitful relationship for future business interactions.


Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.

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